MILWAUKEE - Now that the Nationals have activated Rick Ankiel from the 15-day disabled list , adding their opening day center fielder back to a crowded mix of players, they'll have some decisions to make.
They've got Ankiel on the bench tonight, after he'd only played in two extended spring training games and one game at Double-Harrisburg while rehabbing a sprained right wrist, and manager Jim Riggleman said he'll ease the center fielder back into the majors. When asked if he expected he'd regain his role as the starting center fielder, Ankiel said, "I would expect that, but I don't know."
Another variable in the Nationals' outfield equation is center fielder Roger Bernadina, whom the Nationals wanted to see in center field and the leadoff spot. Bernadina has played 15 games since Ankiel has been on the disabled list, starting in center field and hitting leadoff in all of them. He is hitting .246/.313/.328 with a homer, six RBI and four steals.
"We kind of made a point to, when Rick got hurt, let's look closely at what's happening out there," Riggleman said. "We've got to make some calls on Bernadina - is he a legitimate major league center fielder or is he best suited for left? The feeling's always been that left was his best position, center was his second-best and right was his third-best. But if he plays a good center field, we want to look at that closely enough and make a decision on that. We know Ankiel's a good center fielder, but at this point, I feel real good about the way both of them have played center field."
Riggleman said he's been happy with the way Bernadina has played center field, saying there have been several catches the outfielder shouldn't have been able to make and other catchable balls he missed. Ankiel might be steadier in center field, but the Nationals need to see if Bernadina factors in their long-term plans. And if he does, it's likely he'd be in center field, with Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth both figuring to be corner outfielders down the road.
The manager has also said he might have Ankiel take ground balls at first base; Ankiel said he hasn't played there since high school, but felt he would be comfortable enough to play there in a game.
But the other problem for the Nationals is, Bernadina, Ankiel and Laynce Nix are all left-handed. There are less natural opportunities for all of them to get time in platoon situations, but Riggleman hinted the Nationals might have to stop thinking about platoon advantages so much.
"The thing is, sometimes we overthink this stuff, and we probably, like most clubs, put right-handers against left-handers and vice versa," Riggleman said. "But a lot of times, there are left-handed pitchers that don't want to face left-handed hitters. ... If you're a left-handed hitter and you're going to get three or four at-bats against them, it becomes fairly comfortable."
Nix, by the way, is out of the lineup after fouling a pitch off his left foot in his final at-bat last night. He is available to pinch hit, but had tape on his foot after last night's game. With left-hander Chris Narveson on the mound, it was a good opportunity for Riggleman to get Brian Bixler a game in the lineup. Riggleman said Nix would likely be back in the lineup tomorrow.